The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
...When developers platted Highland Oaks in 1959 there were no rules or regulations in place regarding roads. County officials rejected pleas from residents to have the roads fixed. Officials said the streets had been improperly built and were never properly deeded to the county, making the roads private. The county maintained that position even after a 2015 Express-News Editorial Board investigation revealed the county had accepted the roads as part of a settlement in a lawsuit 30 years ago.
In 2016, after continued media scrutiny and intervention by COPS/Metro Alliance and the Southside Independent School District, county commissioners had a change of heart. Commissioners decided to inventory all roads in the county that might be in a similar situation to begin tackling the problem.....
Beacon Hill Academy parents and students gathered in a parking lot Wednesday morning to watch a dilapidated old school building on the campus fall to a demolition crew. Children donned pink and yellow plastic construction hats that hung low over their eyes and cheered each time “the claw” of an excavator punctured a side of the building.
The 1915 campus building designed by renowned architect Leo Dielmann has long been the bane of campus staff and San Antonio Independent School District officials.
The fate of the aged structure, located near the school’s present building, became the focus of a prolonged debate between SAISD and the city of San Antonio during the two decades when the building sat vacant. Over the last year and a half, Beacon Hill parents and community members teamed with COPS Metro Alliance and rallied to push the district to make a deal with the city to raze the structure, allowing the campus with growing enrollment more space.
Demolition Begins on Historic Beacon Hill Campus Building, Rivard Report [pdf]
Arguing that current City of San Antonio incentives are causing displacement, 100 COPS/Metro leaders pressured the mayor of San Antonio to directly prevent it.
Fr. Larry Christian, of St. Ann Catholic Church and COPS/Metro, called for increased public efforts to educate residents about available resources including “property tax freezes for senior citizens... and tax credits for homeowners that improve their homes.”
The mayor affirmed that he is listening to the organization and committed to collaborating with COPS/Metro leaders on this issue.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, Rivard Report]
In a move to boost voter turnout among neglected communities, Texas IAF organizations reached into suburbs surrounding Texas’ largest cities to assemble by the thousands in political, nonpartisan assemblies to help leaders wrest commitments from candidates for state and federal office. Having witnessed candidate responses to locally-developed agendas, which span from local control to Texas school finance and federal immigration reform, leaders are now mobilizing their neighbors to Get Out The Vote.
In North Dallas, for example, two thousand DAI leaders -- many from Carrollton and Farmers Branch -- invited candidates for House Districts 114, 115, 105 and 107, and Congressional District 32, to commit to investing public funds in local labor market intermediaries, crafting immigration reform that would end the separation of children from their parents at the border (and include protections for DACA youth), cracking down on predatory lending, and repealing Senate Bill 4. Hundreds more from Austin and Hayes County challenged candidates for US Congressional Districts 25 and 21, and State House Districts 47, 45 and 136 to publicly pledge support for similar priorities, including the defense of local control over municipal housing and labor policy. In Helotes, just outside of San Antonio, COPS / Metro leaders carted out boxes with thousands of postcard pledges by voters to participate in the election of US Representative for Congressional District 23, which extends to the outskirts of El Paso, and State Representative for House Districts 117 and 118. In Houston, TMO organized assemblies with candidates for US Congressional District 7 and 29; House Districts 144, 133, and 135; and Senate District 17.
Already, unpaid armies of organizational leaders have knocked on thousands of doors and called thousands more to remind supporters and voters to participate in the midterm elections. Last weekend, for example, Austin Interfaith leaders knocked on doors in three counties, four legislative districts and 2 congressional districts. This weekend, all Texas IAF organizations are making a final push -- from the pews, inside health clinics and in long-neglected neighborhoods -- to ensure the highest turnout possible in support of their agenda.
Leaders understand that targeted voter engagement efforts following accountability assemblies help advance their agenda. This year alone, local Texas IAF organizations succeeded in raising municipal wage floors in San Antonio and Austin to $15 per hour; leveraging the support of Chief of Police Art Acevedo to make Houston the first city in Texas to support a gun safety strategy; and preventing unnecessary deportations through widespread adoption of identification cards generated by parishes within the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
Candidates Share Platform at Assembly, Austin American Statesman
Why Dallas Republicans Skipped an Interfaith Forum, Rewire.News
DAI Accountability Forum [Video]
In many ways, the history of the Archdiocese of San Antonio is a series of immigration stories that reflect the state's political shifts, its segregation, its social changes and the succeeding waves of religious leaders and workers who came to Texas to convert the population and lead the faithful....Read more
Some candidates agreed to aggressively push the organization's goals. Others remained conspicuously absent.Read more
Project Quest, Rackspace Train Military Veterans in Cybersecurity and Celebrate 4th Year of Open Cloud Academy
When Jacob Mireles returned home from deployment in Afghanistan and Kuwait last year, he quickly applied to Project QUEST for Rackspace's Open Cloud Academy cyber security track in Information Technology. During the training he ran into financial issues and Project QUEST assisted with a portion of the mortgage and utilities. He went on to successfully complete the program and soon after graduation, was hired by IP Secure where he now works as a Security Control Assessor, testing risks attributable to software and hardware systems.Read more
Texas IAF organizations in San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso are at the forefront of potential living wage victories for county and city employees. Due to the work of COPS / Metro Alliance and Austin Interfaith, the cities of San Antonio and Austin are on the verge of passing proposed budgets which would increase wages from more than $11 per hour to $13 per hour. Bexar County and El Paso County also have upcoming votes to raise the wages of county workers from $9.45 to $10 in El Paso and from $11.66 to $13 in Bexar. Graphic to the right shows the relative impact of this wage work .Read more